Published: 18th March 2021
Faculty, students come out in support of P B Mehta as he exits from Ashoka
Pratap Bhanu Mehta, who resigned from the university two days back, cited infringement on academic freedom and demanded that the institution should ask him to join back
The faculty and students at the Ashoka University issued strong statements in support of political commentator Pratap Bhanu Mehta, who resigned from the university two days back, citing infringement on academic freedom and demanded that the institution should ask him to join back. Mehta's exit followed resignation by noted economist and former chief economic advisor Arvind Subramanian a day later, who rued in his resignation letter that the institution 'even with its private status and private capital, can no longer provide space for academic expression and freedom'.
Mehta, who had left the chair of the university's vice-chancellor two years back, in an email to his students Wednesday evening, a day after he put in his papers, had hinted that a discussion with the university regarding the 'prevailing circumstances' led to his exit. "The decision to leave Ashoka was not an easy one, especially because of the exceptional quality of students I have been privileged to teach," he wrote. "But after discussions with the university about the prevailing circumstances, it became clear to me that it was best to move on. Hence, I took the decision to resign. "The faculty of the university, in a letter to the vice chancellor Malabika Sarkar and Ashish Dhawan, chairman of the board of trustees, on Thursday said that it is not only an occasion for sorrow over the departure of a deeply respected and admired colleague, it also raises urgent questions about the university's commitment to academic freedom as well as the internal processes."It seems quite plausible, wrote the faculty, that Mehta's resignation was a direct consequence of his role as a public intellectual and critic of the government. We are greatly troubled by this scenario. Even more troubling is the possibility that our university may have acceded to pressure to remove Professor Mehta or to request, and accept, his resignation," the joint letter by the faculty said.
Ashoka University is a private liberal arts university in Sonepat, Haryana and on its website, it describes itself as 'a pioneer in its focus on providing a liberal education at par with the best in the world'. The latest episode, the faculty wrote, however will 'set a chilling precedent for future removals of faculty, curtailing our sense of who we are as researchers and teachers.' Apart from requesting the university to ask Mehta to rescind his resignation, the joint letter also said that the university should clarify its internal protocols of faculty appointment and dismissal and reinforce its 'institutional commitment to the principles of academic freedom.' A faculty member at the institution said the development this week has been rather shocking. "We have been watching, from a distance what has been happening at the Jawaharlal Nehru University and other public institutions the clampdown on academic freedom has now reached our doorstep too," he said. An email sent by this newspaper to the university seeking its response on the development has remained unanswered so far.
Meanwhile in a statement issued, the students at the university under the banner of Ashoka University Student Government said they were 'concerned about the larger implications this has on the freedom of speech for Ashoka's students and faculty.' Some of the students also held demonstrations in the campus and urged Mehta to break his silence over the matter.